Conservatism lost one of its most colorful characters yesterday. Angelo Codevilla, longtime writer and professor, expert on foreign policy, and every bit the curmudgeon, died at the age of 78.
Codevilla was quite the character. Acerbic, sarcastic, cranky, ornery, prickly, and yet all of it in a strangely entertaining if not endearing way, he was the epitome of political incorrectness. In fact, he reveled in his political incorrectness. The more that an audience seemed uneasy or offended by his statements, the more Angelo seemed energized and ready to roll. I first met him with a group of Salvatori Fellows at the Heritage Foundation in the summer of 1998. Angelo held court at a table at an Irish pub down the street from Union Station, where he talked foreign policy, history, radical Islam, and, well, sprayed a host of insults. It was a mesmerizing performance. I gingerly asked questions to egg him on, albeit bracing for insults myself, and yet wouldn’t have minded at all.
It was all part of the Angelo Codevilla persona.
It didn’t take long for audiences to get a feel for the Codevilla persona. I only saw Angelo speak maybe three times, but on two occasions, I was fortunate enough to witness him rebuking (not correcting but rebuking) a couple poor souls who mispronounced his name whilst introducing him. Angelo stepped to the mic and opened his remarks by first glaring at the unfortunate fellows who introduced him and sharply explaining that his last name is pronounced “Coda-vill-ah,” not “Coda-vee-yah.”
“I’m Italian,” he explained sternly, without a hint of amusement. “Not Mexican.”
He was indeed, born in Voghera, Italy in May 1943. He came to the United States and attended Rutgers as an undergraduate before going on to grad school at Notre Dame (master’s degree) and then at Claremont, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1973. He served in the Navy, was a Foreign Service officer, and was very influential in the 1980s in a key position as a staff member of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence and an aide to Senator Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyoming). The Reagan administration found him to be a rock of reliability in supporting its foreign policy initiatives and defense programs, particularly the Strategic Defense Initiative. Beyond his time on Capitol Hill, Angelo taught at several places, from Grove City College to Georgetown to Stanford to Boston University, where he became an emeritus professor.
Codevilla’s Wikipedia page notes that his many writings appeared in Commentary, Foreign Affairs, National Review, the New Republic, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. It leaves out a major omission. I would wager that Angelo Codevilla wrote more for The American Spectator than any of those publications.
He began writing for Bob Tyrrell’s magazine way back in May 1975, when Angelo was a research scholar at Claremont. By the first decade of the 2000s, he wrote often for TAS. In 2003, he become a senior editor. By 2009, he was writing for nearly every issue.
Among his many pieces for The American Spectator, none had the impact quite like Angelo’s piece for the July/August 2010 issue. Billed on the cover of the magazine that month as “America’s Regime Class,” the piece was titled inside, “America’s Ruling Class.” The article made a big splash, and was the most-read piece published by the magazine in 2010. That impact was made possible because Rush Limbaugh made a huge deal out of it. Limbaugh loved it, devoting an unusual amount of his airtime reading at great length from the article, which clearly struck an unexpected chord with the man who had the No. 1 radio talk-show in America. (The article would be quickly expanded into a short book published that same year under the title, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It, and with an introduction by Rush Limbaugh.)
“The progressives found it fulfilling to attribute the failure of their schemes to the American people’s backwardness, to something deeply wrong with America,” wrote Codevilla in one of the longest articles ever to run in the print edition of the magazine (traversing pages 18 through 36 of the July/August 2010 issue). “By taxing and parceling out more than a third of what Americans produce, through regulations that reach deep into American life, our ruling class is making itself the arbiter of wealth and poverty.”
Al Regnery, who was then the publisher of The American Spectator, flagged Angelo’s article that month in his publisher’s note, calling it a “magnificent essay.” In retrospect, the article seemed prophetic of the Trump years and into the 2020s when corporations and Big Tech and educated elites all went woke-left and as the rural-populist-working class went Trump and Republican. But at the time, it was directed at Barack Obama and the progressive elite and their “ruling class” that was dutifully filling up and expanding the Left’s Beltway powerbase.
Angelo Codevilla had identified something significant, and his essay hence made a significant impact. It was just one of many. He continued to write online for The American Spectator in the years ahead.
I personally didn’t know Codevilla well, but we did exchange occasional emails, usually on the subject of Marxism, on which he was always insightful. He understood Marxists and Marxism thoroughly, both from an academic’s perspective and a practitioner who had dealt with them in the real world.
I was surprised to learn that Angelo was only 78 when he died. He seemed older. He seemed in his 70s when I first met him in the late 1990s. Again, that curmudgeonly thing.
That makes his loss worse. Angelo Codevilla had a lot left in him. He had more to write and contribute. May he rest in peace.